Lauren Sommer

Lauren Sommer covers climate change for NPR's Science Desk, from the scientists on the front lines of documenting the warming climate to the way those changes are reshaping communities and ecosystems around the world.

Prior to joining NPR, Sommer spent more than a decade covering climate and environment for KQED Public Radio in San Francisco. During her time there, she delved into the impacts of California's historic drought during dry years and reported on destructive floods during wet years, and covered how communities responded to record-breaking wildfires.

Sommer has also examined California's ambitious effort to cut carbon emissions across its economy and investigated the legacy of its oil industry. On the lighter side, she ran from charging elephant seals and searched for frogs in Sierra Nevada lakes.

She was also host of KQED's macrophotography nature series Deep Look, which searched for universal truths in tiny organisms like black-widow spiders and parasites. Sommer has received a national Edward R. Murrow for use of sound, as well as awards from the Society of Professional Journalists and the Society of Environmental Journalists.

Based at NPR's San Francisco bureau, Sommer grew up in the West, minus a stint on the East Coast to attend Cornell University.

Off the coast of England, there's a tiny, wind-swept island with the remains of a lifeboat rescue station from the mid-1800s. The workers who once ran the station on Hilbre Island did something that, unbeknownst to them, has become crucial for understanding the future of a hotter climate: They recorded the tides.

In a flurry of first-week executive orders, President Biden sent a definitive message that his administration would move faster on climate change than any before. Now, the question is whether it will be fast enough.

President Biden is moving quickly on climate change on his first day in office, saying he plans to sign a sweeping executive order to undo many of the Trump administration's environmental rollbacks.

As commuters stayed home in 2020 and airplanes remained on the ground, the nationwide slowdown led to a sizable drop in heat-trapping emissions. U.S. greenhouse gas emissions fell by 10 percent, the largest annual drop since World War II, according to a report by the Rhodium Group.

Still, the climate diet isn't likely to stick. The reductions were largely due to temporary changes during lockdown orders. By the end of the year, Americans were already back to driving and flying more.

With just a few weeks left, 2020 is in a dead-heat tie for the hottest year on record. But whether it claims the top spot misses the point, climate scientists say. There is no shortage of disquieting statistics about what is happening to the Earth.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The pandemic is having some unintended consequences on the environment. There's less air pollution. And now scientists are finding that water quality is improving, too. NPR's Lauren Sommer reports.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

After record-breaking wildfires this year, thousands of people across the West are still clearing piles of charred debris where their homes once stood in the hope of rebuilding their lives.

With climate change fueling bigger, more destructive wildfires, rebuilding offers an opportunity to create more fire-resistant communities by using building materials that can help homes survive the next blaze.

Jennifer Montano watches her two kids' faces as they quietly clamber out of the car in their driveway in Vacaville, Calif. It's been a week since the children were last home, but where their house once stood, there's ash and rubble now.

In August, the Montanos' house was destroyed by the LNU Lightning Complex Fire, one of more than 10,000 structures lost in record-breaking blazes across the West this year.

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TONYA MOSLEY, HOST:

Each family had their reasons for ending up in harm's way.

For the Harts, it was the chance to have a large backyard in a quiet part of Ashland, Ore. The porch of the Baltimore house was perfect for Scott Harris' barbecue equipment. Kevin Boudreaux had grown up on the bayou and wanted to settle near his childhood home in Cameron, La.

California will phase out the sale of all gasoline-powered vehicles by 2035 in a bid to lead the U.S. in reducing greenhouse gas emissions by encouraging the state's drivers to switch to electric cars.

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order Wednesday that amounts to the most aggressive clean-car policy in the United States. Although it bans the sale of new gas cars and trucks after the 15-year deadline, it will still allow such vehicles to be owned and sold on the used-car market.

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It's become a near-annual occurrence. A massive wildfire forces thousands of people to flee their homes. Exhausted firefighters warn of its speed and intensity. Smoke smothers cities and states hundreds of miles away.

The upshot of climate change is that everyone alive is destined to experience unprecedented disasters. The most powerful hurricanes, the most intense wildfires, the most prolonged heat waves and the most frequent outbreaks of new diseases are all in our future. Records will be broken, again and again.

But the predicted destruction is still shocking when it unfolds at the same time.

Updated Friday, 4:30 p.m. ET

Millions of people rely on real estate websites when they're hoping to buy or rent a home. Major sites such as Zillow, Redfin, Trulia and Realtor.com feature kitchens, bathrooms, mortgage estimates and even school ratings. But those sites don't show buyers whether the house is likely to flood while they're living there.

On a cool February morning, around 60 people gathered in the Sierra Nevada foothills to take part in a ceremony that, for many decades, was banned.

At 3 a.m. on Friday morning, biologist Kelly Sorenson was awake, nervously watching the live webcam feed of a California condor nest on the Big Sur coast. He could see a 5-month-old chick, still unable to fly, as the flames of the Dolan Fire came into view.

"It was just terrifying," Sorenson said. "Having the live-streaming webcams was both a blessing and a nightmare because we had to watch the fire as it burned through the canyon."

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Here in California, we've had almost a week of rolling blackouts. And NPR's Lauren Sommer has been asking how to keep this from becoming normal.

They're wiggly and slimy and live inside the flesh of other animals. Now, scientists are making a new case for why they should be saved.

Parasites play crucial roles in ecosystems around the world, making up around 40% of animal species. As wildlife faces the growing threats of climate change and habitat loss, scientists warn that parasites are equally vulnerable.

That's why a team of scientists has released a "global parasite conservation plan."

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STACEY VANEK SMITH, HOST:

President Trump is attacking Democrats on a new front: suburbia.

"They want to eliminate single-family zoning, bringing who knows into your suburbs," Trump said on a July campaign call.

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

President Trump is attacking Democrats in an area where he's trying to win votes - the suburbs.

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When Kirsten Delegard's grandparents bought their first house in south Minneapolis in 1941, they signed the property's deed, as is standard for any homebuyer.

But the deed came with this line: "No person or persons other than of the Caucasian race shall be permitted to occupy said premises or any part thereof."

With the coronavirus pandemic eroding state budgets across the country, many communities risk having this disaster make them less prepared for looming climate-driven disasters.

Still recovering from devastating wildfires, California was poised to spend billions of dollars to prepare for future fires and other extreme weather disasters. The infrastructure projects, designed to make communities and homes more resistant to wildfire, have long been overlooked, fire experts say.

But with a $54 billion budget deficit, the programs are being put on hold.

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With traffic dramatically down in recent months, the United States is in the middle of an accidental experiment showing what happens to air pollution when millions of people stop driving.

With coronavirus testing still lagging behind targets, health officials are searching for other ways to assess the spread of the outbreak. One possibility? Looking at what we flush.

The coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 is often spread through sneezes and coughs, but it also leaves the human body through our waste. Scientists around the world are now testing sewage for the virus, using it as a collective sample to measure infection levels among thousands of people.

As the climate has warmed, Antarctica and Greenland have lost enough ice in the last 16 years to fill Lake Michigan, according to results from a new NASA mission.

Put another way, more than 5,000 gigatons of ice has melted (a gigaton equals one billion metric tons or enough to fill 400,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools), which drove up sea levels around the world.

The findings show how the massive ice sheets at the far ends of the planet will affect millions of people on coastlines everywhere.

In early February, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was looking for ways to stop the novel coronavirus before it got out of control in the United States.

What does an outdoor cat do all day? According to new research, it could be taking a heavy toll on local wildlife.

A tracking study of more than 900 house cats shows when they kill small birds and mammals, their impact is concentrated in a small area, having a bigger effect than wild predators do.

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